A new job – and an afternoon of undiluted pleasure

Cello cases arrayed in Studio 1 at BBC Maida Vale. In the background the BBC Symphony Orchestra rehearses for the Last Night of the Proms 2011
The BBCSO at Maida Vale rehearsing for the Last Night of the Proms 2011

In a few weeks time I’ll be heading back to BBC radio, where I’ll be taking over the job of Interactive Editor for Radio 3, the Proms and the performing groups. I’m almost speechless with pleasure at this development while also terrifically sad to be leaving my lovely friends in digital comms where we have really just got started on a huge project to reinvent the BBC’s corporate web site.

So it was a nice coincidence that I spent Thursday afternoon with Dualtagh Herr (one of my digital comms colleagues and a bona fide video ninja) in the shabby splendour of Maida Vale’s studio 1 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. We were shooting a video (which is sadly no longer online) about that national musical landmark and massive cultural oddity The Last Night of the Proms.

I’ll admit I’ve never been so close to a great orchestra in action and the gales of glorious, melodic NOISE issuing from every corner of the band (that’s what they call it), even while at rest or tuning up were so affecting as to leave both of us slack-jawed in wonder. We walked back to Warwick Avenue tube after the shoot giggling with the pleasure of it. I’ll be at the Last Night tonight – another first for me and one that I suspect counts as an essential inoculation for the journey I’m going on. Wish me luck, friends.

I took some photos while I was at Maida Vale.

The second-best book about twentieth century music

'Thus, from the birth of radio circa 1922 to its death by TV and reruns in the mid-1940s, there was almost enough work for all the talent in a ballooning country, and all bets were off concerning the incidence of genius.' Quote from 'The House that George Built' by Wilfrid Sheed

Everybody knows the best book about Twentieth Century music is Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise but there’s another brilliant book set in the same period – Wilfrid Sheed’s The House That George Built, a history of the golden age of American popular music. It’s about the generations of American songwriters, starting at the turn of the twentieth century in what Sheed calls ‘the piano era’, who essentially invented what we now know as popular music.

It’s sub-titled ‘with a little help from Irving, Cole and a crew of about fifty’ and it’s told through the abbreviated life stories of the dozens of lyricists and composers who grafted on Broadway, on Tin Pan Alley and in Hollywood to make us all song addicts. It’s warm and entertaining and full of mad insights into the psychology and economics and aesthetics of pop music.

It’s also a catalogue of amazing songs – from Basin Street Blues to Body and Soul to Baby it’s Cold Outside to April in Paris. I’ve created a Spotify playlist for each section. The artists are a bit variable – performers from the other end of the Twentieth Century aren’t as well-represented as they ought to be on Spotify – and there are a few gaps but it’s an amazing mosaic of song. Let me know if you’ve found better versions.